Prosecutor To Focus On Persons And Property Felonies, Not Small Drug Felonies

February 28, 2018



Crimes with identifiable victims are getting higher priority by Snohomish County Prosecutors.

Yesterday the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office issued a press release explaining their office was going to stop prosecuting felony possession of less than two grams of heroin, meth, opioids and other drugs and focus resources on going after burglars, thieves, robbers and those who commit assault. “We want to work on cases where there are identifiable victims,” Chief Criminal Deputy Craig Matheson told in a phone conversation this morning. Matheson said it was a combination of resources and priorities for not only the prosecutors but also law enforcement and even court appointed defense resources. We asked him if not prosecuting felony drug possession in small amounts was sending the wrong message to those considering drug involvement, especially younger people. “That’s always a potential downside but there are few other options given our resources,” Matheson replied.

Here is the complete press release regarding the decision by the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office.

Resource Allocation – Lesser Amount Drug Cases
EVERETT, Wash., February 27, 2018 –

In 2017 our felony division, with no additional personnel, filed 700 more cases into Superior Court than in 2016. That resulted in caseloads far beyond what our trial deputies can handle effectively. Additionally, when we file more cases our county public defenders, because of the reasonable caseload standards adopted by the Supreme Court, get more attorneys. We do not. We just get further and further behind.

In many counties across the state, if not most, drug possession cases involving a small amount, even though a felony by law, are commonly handled as misdemeanors. Small fines were imposed that were often not paid, and probation is ordered that is often not complied with. Courts are still understandably reluctant to incarcerate addicts for possessing small amounts of drugs, and even if imposed, jail doesn’t seem to address an addiction problem. Recidivism is near 100%. Addicts will seemingly address their addiction when they decide to, not when we try to force them to. Our office also utilized this “Expedited Misdemeanor” process for many years on these cases, but with negligible effect. Even our “successes” were usually failures, as re-offense was more the rule than the exception.

In short, a prosecutorial response to minor possession cases has apparently done little if anything to curb drug use. What we have been doing on these cases hasn’t been working. What it was doing however, was preventing our deputies from being able to concentrate more fully on Burglaries, Robberies, DUIs, assaults, and the myriad property crimes drug users commit, because we were too busy dutifully charging them, essentially for being addicts in the first place. I have decided to temporarily try letting social service and public health industries try to tackle this social and health problem, and on cases below 2 grams, getting out of their way. I am also hopeful that Sheriff Trenary’s proposed pilot project diversion center has positive results for these people; but what we have done hasn’t.

If other crime actually gets worse, which I highly doubt it will, we will try something else or otherwise reconsider. We historically modify our standards often to reflect our priorities and resources. Under 2 grams of drugs has typically been a low priority criminal case, and at this point is beyond those resources. I learned today that King County is taking similar action on 1500 misdemeanor cases, for essentially the same reason we are taking this step.

Criminal Justice currently consumes over 70% of county general fund resources, and we are constantly reminded of that. It has been made very clear, through this year’s budget process that failed to utilize a property tax increase already approved by voters, that more resources for our office were not going to be forthcoming. It is my job to utilize the resources granted as effectively and efficiently as possible, and live within my means. This charging adjustment is part of that. Something had to give. As we told law enforcement, we will always consider making exceptions if a particular case, in our opinion, does merit the expenditure of resources. This change does not apply to drug dealers or traffickers where we have sufficient evidence to charge those higher crimes. In fact, this step will likely allow us to be even more aggressive on those cases.

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